Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Fourth Watch

Readings for Tuesday, August 3:
Jeremiah 30:1-2,12-15,18-22
Psalm 102:16-23,29
Matthew 14:22-36

"During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea."

Today we hear the familiar story of Christ walking on the stormy waters and Peter’s test of faith. In the midst of this great story we encounter an odd thing – the mention of the little detail of it being the fourth watch of the night when it occurred. It’s rather curious that Saint Matthew would see fit to include this seemingly insignificant detail here. The thing is that he wants you to question why it’s there. This is so because we find that it is often the little pieces of information that tell us the important points of the story.

So what is so significant about the fourth watch? In this context, it shows us that the disciples had been out in the boat on the stormy waters for a number of hours. The fourth watch was the period between 3 and 6 a.m. and so they had likely been under this great stress through the whole night. You can imagine how stressful that might be, having to try to maintain control of the boat while facing the reality that death could soon come and not knowing how things will work out. And yet we also must realize that this was not just an accidental thing, but that Jesus knew that I would occur and used it as a test for all of them. Recall the first line of the gospel today, “Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side of the sea…” The last time they were having trouble in the boat, He was with them to calm the sea. This time, however, He is not physically present because He wants them to grow strong through trials of faith. He wants them to be strong in faith and trust in Him Who told them to go out in the boat. This is more than a test of Peter’s faith; it is a test for each of them to prepare them for the future mission Christ had in store for them, one that would surely hold much greater trials than stormy waters.

As we gather today to celebrate this Mass, we hear the invitation of the Lord extended to each of us, as with the disciples, to have faith in Him, trusting that He is with us in all of our stormy waters.